Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo Actual rating: 3.5 StarsYou can also read this review on Flying Kick-a-pow! Reviews."Now, show them."I grinned and did as I had been taught, throwing my arms wide and feeling my whole self open, then I slammed my hands together and a loud rumble shook the ballroom. Brilliant white light exploded through the crowd with a whoosh as the guests released a collective "Ahhhh!" and closed their eyes, flinging up their hands against the brightness.I held it for a few long seconds and then unclasped my hands, letting the light fade. The crowd burst into wild applause, clapping furiously and stomping their feet.We took our bows as the orchestra began to play and the applause gave way to excited chatter. The Darkling pulled me to the side of the stage and whispered, "Do you hear them? See them dancing and embracing? They know now that the rumors are true, that everything is about to change."The Shadow Fold is a land of impenetrable darkness that runs through the nation of Ravka, plagued by monsters that feed on humans. While on a dangerous journey through the Fold with the army, a girl named Alina unexpectedly defeats some monsters with a power she never knew she had. This immediately attracts the attention of the Grisha––the magical elite who rule over Ravka.Their leader, a mysterious and terrifying being called the Darkling, takes Alina into his palace to learn to control her power. He tells her she may be the key to defeating the monsters of the Shadow Fold once and for all. But Alina is torn between her luxurious new lifestyle and everything she's left behind––particularly her best friend, Mal. And can she really trust the Grisha, when she has been taught her whole life not to?I went into Shadow and Bone not knowing what to expect. I had seen a lot of fellow reviewers reading it, but I didn't know much about what it was about or even if people were liking it or not. I have to admit, what interested me in the first place was that gorgeous cover. Hot damn!The beginning of this book completely arrested me. The prologue was a little confusing and maybe unnecessary, but once it got into Alina's narration I was hooked right away. I mean, within the first couple of chapters, we already have these crazy flying demons (called volcra) attacking people, the Darkling chopping people in half with his mind, etc. It was really exciting, I enjoyed the writing style, I loved the dynamic between Alina and Mal … I stayed up until 1 AM reading it and even considered waking up at like 6 in the morning just to keep reading. I was prepared for one crazy ride. Well, this book has a very promising beginning … but it didn't quite fulfill that promise. Don't get me wrong, I still really enjoyed this book. But after that super exciting beginning, things slow down quite a bit. Once Alina is in the Grisha kingdom and studying with the Darkling and all that, the pace gets pretty slow. It isn't until a little over halfway through the book that things get good again––once Alina finds out some important secrets, and once she is reunited with Mal again.That uneventful chunk took away from my enjoyment of the book a bit. However, I did find a lot of things to admire about Shadow and Bone over all.I'm not usually a big fan of "epic fantasy" type books, usually because they are filled with info-dumps. But I think Leigh Bardugo does a fine job in creating this fantastical world without shoving too much information at the reader at once. There are a lot of new terms to pick up, but they're all pretty self-explanatory and presented in contexts that don't make them confusing. That takes a lot of skill, and I applaud Bardugo for that. The book also has a very strong atmosphere––very dark and mysterious, which kept me intrigued. The more exciting parts of the book (the very beginning of it and the second half of it) really kept me hooked. The action scenes were engaging, the descriptions were vivid, the dialogue (especially between Alina and Mal) was very charming and enjoyable. The romance also didn't go in the direction I quite expected. I will try not to spoil much … but yes, the Darkling and Mal are both involved. And I really liked both of them––in very different ways, but I thought they were both good characters.Mal is really sweet. I kept just wanting to reach through the book and hug him. Sure, the "childhood best friend love interest" is an overused trope, but … oh well. I still loved Mal nonetheless. Like I said, I especially loved the dialogue between him and Alina. Bardugo is great at showing (rather than telling) that these two are best friends and that they have such a strong connection. It was easily believable.The Darkling is a very intriguing character. Like Alina, I was torn between fearing him and being … weirdly attracted to him. I mean, he can slice people's bodies in half without even touching them, and that's pretty dang frightening. And as the story unfolds, we learn some pretty disturbing things about him. Yet … well, he's kind of sexy. Not gonna lie. I hope we learn more about him and his motives in the sequel, because I think his character has quite a lot of potential.There are still a few things about the book that bothered me somewhat.Firstly, there are so many clichés. So, so many.- The whole light vs. darkness thing, where light is good and dark is evil.- The main character spontaneously discovers powers she never used or knew about before, and is basically a "chosen one" who has the power to save everyone, yada yada.- Before all of this, the main character was just a plain orphan girl who never thought she was anything special.- The main character considers herself very boring and "ordinary-looking" because she's small and has brown hair … and apparently that automatically equals ugliness.- … But she's actually super sexy.- Main character has to choose between the sexy new "dangerous" love interest and the "childhood best friend" love interest … well, kind of. Part of me was really glad that the Darkling turned out to be a traitor. I was afraid it would go further down the clichéd route and it would turn out the Darkling is actually just full of angst because of a horrible childhood or something, but he wasn't actually "bad." So I was glad in a way that he actually turned out to be a villain in the story, although I hope that in the sequels there is more development of his character. I don't want him to end up being a totally two-dimensional "bad guy."I could go on, but I think that about covers the basics. You get the idea. And look, I still really had fun reading this book. But I have to admit, it's not very original, and I see why a lot of people dislike it because of that.I also agree with what I've seen a lot of other reviewers say about the book's focus on looks/beauty. I hadn't really thought about it until I saw so many other people point it out, but I see what they're saying. Alina often stresses the beauty of the other females in the book, while comparing it to her own "plainness." It's kind of the only way she judges other women, which is sad. And in general, I had mixed feelings about Alina. I thought she was cool in the very beginning, but for the rest of the book she had a tendency to act kind of naïve/pathetic a lot of the time, and didn't really do much until towards the end of the book. I still think she has a lot of potential as a protagonist, but I'll have to see more of that in the sequel to believe it.Another small thing … I don't really see the point of the "Russian flavor" of the whole thing. I don't claim to know much about Russian mythology, but from what I've read of more knowledgable reviewers, the book doesn't draw from mythology so much. And apparently the author has said that it's not really based on Russia, just slightly influenced by it. But this is really only apparent in the names of the characters, some of the language they use, and not much else. So … while it doesn't really take anything away from the book, I don't think it adds anything either. But anyway, ultimately I had a lot of fun reading this book. The plot may not be very original, and the story slowed down a bit too much for me for most of the first half––but the world-building is interesting, the writing is good, and I'm intrigued by the characters. My fear for the next two books is that it's going to become a predictable and typical "good vs. evil" story, but I'm really hoping that won't happen. I think this first installment laid out a foundation that could lead to something truly great, and I'm just hoping it reaches that potential.- Flying Kick-a-pow! Reviews